Academic Exchange Quarterly Spring 2006 ISSN 1096-1453 Volume 10, Issue 1
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There is a chorus of voices in contemporary culture decrying
humanity’s moral decline (Bork, 1996; Bouza, 1996;
Fukuyama, 1999; Green, 1994). The emergence of terrorism in the
According to Campus Compact (2001), service-learning, a particular alternative on the spectrum of service related opportunities, has spread rapidly throughout communities, and academic settings of every level from elementary to post-secondary institutions. The growth is especially evident in secondary and post-secondary institutions (Billig & Waterman, 2003; Waterman, 1997). Whether prompted by a national increase in altruism, or a simple attempt to enhance one’s college or employment application, it is clear that there has been a significant increase in participation in service-learning activity among these groups (Campus Compact). According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) there were more than an estimated 13 million students involved in service and service-learning activities during the 2000-2001. Additionally, between 1984 and 1997, K-12 participation in service-learning grew from fewer than one million to 12.6 million students, with the proportion of high school students involved in service-learning growing from 2% to 25% during the same span (Fiske, 2001).
Secondary and post-secondary institutions, for their part, are clearly assuming the responsibility of educating students beyond the classroom. Collegiate participation has been found to enhance moral reasoning even after controlling for age and entering level of moral judgment (King & Mayhew, 2002; Rogers, 2002). Faith-based liberal arts institutions tend to focus on making “their students’ moral and civic engagement a high priority and have created a wealth of curricular and extracurricular programs to stimulate and support that development” (Colby, Ehrlich, Beaumont, & Stephens, 2003, p. 23). In an examination of such activities, Astin (1984) found that those students who limit their involvement solely to traditional curricular pursuits do not show the same gains as students who are involved in a broader range of activities. The question remains: In what ways might these service-learning opportunities stem the seeming tide of societal moral decline? Most scholars who study the impact of the college experience on students agree that experiences outside the classroom can enhance important and valued attributes (Astin, 1977, 1993; Bowen, 1977; Chickering, 1993; McNeel, 1994; Pascarelli & Terrenzini, 2005).
Might this growing involvement in service-learning activities, during the formative years of high school and undergraduate studies, transform the citizenry in such a way as to stem society’s seemingly inevitable moral decline? Several studies indicate that indeed it does. There are a number of investigations of the effects of service-learning among college students (e.g., Borzak, 1981; Burwell, Butman, & Van Wicklin, 1992; Lies, 2005; McNeel, 1994). The interventions vary from course-related activities to an extended full-time summer service-learning program.
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